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Big players recognize The Bahamas as prime destination
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Big players recognize The Bahamas as prime destination

Cruise lines are behind major new developments across the archipelago

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
September 1, 2019
September 1, 2019
Jessica Robertson

During the first two years of its five-year term, the Dr Hubert Minnis administration has announced an almost constant stream of major projects that, when complete, will give the Bahamian economy a significant boost. The money and the drive behind the most impressive expansion plans are coming from one of the country’s oldest and most significant tourism partners–the cruise line industry.

With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, some of the biggest players in the resurgent cruise industry are demonstrating that they recognize the strategic importance of The
Bahamas as a destination, investing in major infrastructure and developing new ports of call throughout the country to maintain their own competitive edge.

Nassau Cruise Port transformation
The project with the biggest potential initial impact is the redevelopment of the Nassau Cruise
Port in the heart of downtown Nassau.

Major cruise lines joined forces to submit a bid for the redevelopment and management project, but the government opted to avoid a potential conflict of interest and instead selected UK-listed, Turkey-headquartered Global Ports Holding.

With a total of 3.7 million visitors arriving in Nassau via cruise ships each year, the new port will be the largest in Global Ports Holding’s vast international portfolio. From the outset it will
increase the company’s passenger volume by 50 per cent and it intends to push those numbers beyond five million annually with a $250-million investment.

The plan will transform the cruise port from a simple dock where visitors get on and off their ships without much fanfare into a destination in itself, complete with open air amphitheatre featuring local and international entertainment, restaurants, retail outlets and other amenities.

The plans also call for the addition of two more berths to accommodate more and larger ships at the capital city’s premier port of call.

The two sides are working feverishly to finalize agreements and have permits and approvals in place for construction to begin in September this year. The targeted completion date is October 2021.

As a further nod to the significance of The Bahamas addition to its portfolio, Global Ports Holding has announced plans to make Nassau the home of its regional office covering ports in North and South America.

Disney to add second private destination
The cruise line-affiliated project that has stirred the most debate is the proposed development of Lighthouse Point, Eleuthera. This out-of-the-way southern tip of the Family Island, with
white cliffs and sandy beaches surrounded by turquoise ocean, is viewed by many Bahamians as one of the most spectacular, untouched places in the country.

Disney Cruise Lines thinks it is special too and purchased the land from a private owner, intending to develop a second private destination in The Bahamas to accommodate its
rapidly growing fleet.

In response, local residents launched the Save Lighthouse Point campaign. Various groups joined, hoping to highlight proposals for sustainable land use or calls to leave it untouched.

The back and forth dominated the headlines for months and finally in March, the government gave Disney the nod to push ahead, but not without major concessions.

In a statement following the signing of the heads of agreement, Prime Minister Dr Minnis said: “The government of The Bahamas is satisfied that it made the best decision in the interest of the Bahamian people, a sustainable future for the people of Central and South Eleuthera and the economic development of the country.”

To push the deal over the line, Disney agreed to donate 190 acres of the 700 acres of land to the government for development as a national park. The donated land includes the iconic and much photographed southern tip. The deal also ensures that Disney will continue to grant Bahamian citizens and residents access to the property.

Even still, the proposed $250-$400 million dollar low density project will not get underway until an environmental impact assessment and environmental management plan have been conducted and approved by the relevant authorities.

One island project that is already up and running is Royal Caribbean’s private island destination complex Perfect Day at CocoCay. Exclusive to its cruise passengers, the $250 million development is now a highlight on the cruise line’s tours of the region, with attractions such as a 135 ft high waterslide, the Caribbean region’s largest wave pool and freshwater Oasis Lagoon.

Grand Bahama resurgence
Grand Bahama’s tourism product has been underperforming for a number of years, but two major announcements recently have grabbed the attention of residents, giving hope that a turnaround is on the horizon.

First was the announcement that Carnival Corp is pushing ahead with its long talked about cruise port. The idea was first bandied around more than ten years ago and a heads of agreement was signed and announced by then Prime Minister Perry Christie just days before he lost control of the government.

However, the project seems to be once again moving ahead. The proposed $100-million port will be located on 329 acres near the University of The Bahamas’ northern campus in eastern Grand Bahama and will be Carnival’s largest wholly-owned port in the world–capable of accommodating two of the largest cruise ships at the same time, increasing the number of guests to Grand Bahama significantly.

Promising to develop in a sustainable manner, Carnival has earmarked a significant area of the property to remain untouched.

The Grand Port, which is its working title at this time, will put Grand Bahama on the map as one of the largest cruise ports in the Caribbean region.

Thousands of construction jobs will be generated and once open in 2021, the new port will provide hundreds of Grand Bahamians with employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.

“After many years of economic stagnation there is a new spirit of revival of hope for Grand Bahama,” said Minnis.

Not long after that news got Grand Bahama buzzing, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Mexican port, hotel and amusement park developer ITM Group signed a letter of intent with the Bahamian government to purchase the Grand Lucayan resort and redevelop Freeport Harbour.

The hotel, one of the largest on the island, has been almost completely closed since Hurricane Matthew caused extensive damage in 2016. To kick-start its redevelopment, the government bought the property from Hutchison Whampoa in 2018. The resort’s overhaul could be what enables the prime minister and his team to justify the controversial decision
and help turnaround the island’s fortunes.

The port proposal includes construction of additional berths, possibly doubling the number of ships it currently accommodates and potentially leading to an additional two million visitors annually.

In early March this year, the prospective developers and government entered into a 90-day discussion period to hash out the way forward. The $195 million transformation of the port and the island’s signature hotel is expected to take at least 24 months once all plans have been approved.

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